Saabbuk sniffed the air cautiously. Here, under the lowest tier of branches, predators stalked in permanent twilight. This was the realm of the bole predators, of aswengu and cobdru the constrictor snakes, of dabu the little climbing pack hunter that could rip an adult male to shreds, and of morku the hunting lizard. Moisture dripped constantly from above, all of it runoff or condensation for no rain made it this far through the layers of canopy. It was quiet because there was little air movement and none of the small bird life found in the upper canopy. The staples of the of the predators’ diets were the fungus feeders, the insectivors that turned over the humus and the root diggers that dwelt on the ground itself.
Few of the people came down here, Saabbuk didn’t blame them, the risks were great and the atmosphere was oppressive. Those that did come were mainly bachelors with sleeping nests on the branch tier directly above, seasoned and solitary males, with only a few inquisitive adolescents leavening the mix.
Saabbuk came here because there was a chance for great gain.
The people were tree dwellers, living on platforms that rode the branches of the world tree, sustaining themselves with the fruit of epiphyte species and the small fauna of the upper tiers. They harvested building materials from small forests that grew on the broader branches. What they lacked was materials harder than wood for tools.
That was what drew the males here to the dark just above the ground. The root diggers exposed stones when they dug for their food and a quick male could gather those up before something gathered him. Its uses made stone a valuable trade commodity. A backpack full of stone, carefully traded up the branch tiers, could supply Saabbuk with healing teas for the season ahead, stock up his twine supply and provide a waterproof cloth to add to his sleeping nest.
Just as importantly, at his age, a successful stone gatherer was a desirable mate to many unpaired females. No male he knew wished to be a bachelor forever.